New Jersey smoking ban bill heads for Senate health committee vote amid industry opposition

New Jersey Senator Joe Vitale’s proposal to end smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos is heading for a crucial vote in the Senate’s health committee today, Monday. Vitale, a Democrat representing Middlesex, has been introducing a bill every two years since 2006 to curb smoking in New Jersey casinos.

Vitale believes the bill is gaining momentum after the session that ended earlier this month saw multiple hearings on the topic. The senator is hopeful the legislation will finally reach the governor’s desk soon, despite persistent opposition from the casino industry.

A study commissioned by the Casino Association of New Jersey suggests that over 2,500 jobs could be at risk if the bill becomes law. Atlantic City officials expressed concerns about the potential negative impact on the city’s economy.

Vitale, undeterred by industry opposition, believes the bill is on the verge of making progress. “It’s going to get done. Not just this session, but more likely over the next few months,” said Vitale.

The bill has garnered attention early in the new legislative session, with a vote scheduled in the Senate’s health committee, which now includes two new Democratic members, Sens. Raj Mukherji and Angela McKnight.

Despite the optimistic outlook from Vitale, the casino industry remains resistant to the proposed ban. One lawmaker, Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic), plans to introduce a compromise bill that aims to address concerns raised by casino owners. 

Polistina’s compromise proposal includes the allowance of enclosed smoking rooms in casinos, where workers can volunteer for shifts, coupled with a phased-out approach for smoking on casino floors.

Vitale, who chairs the health committee, stands firm in his support for the original bill, expressing frustration with industry proposals that he views as driven by “greed and ignorance.” He dismissed claims of potential job losses as “scare tactics” and drew parallels with the restaurant industry’s failed predictions when indoor smoking was banned in 2006.

Casino workers, who have been fervently advocating for a smoking ban, have intensified their lobbying efforts during the last legislative session. Borgata dealer Pete Naccarelli emphasized the urgency of the matter, citing the health risks associated with prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke in casinos.

Naccarelli is focused on educating lawmakers about the dangers of smoking in casinos and opposes compromises. “People are fired up, and they’re upset, and we can’t wait any longer to get this done,” he said, as per New Jersey Monitor.

The scheduled vote on the bill this Monday has garnered support from the United Auto Workers, the union representing casino workers, and the group Casino Employees Against Smoking Effects (CEASE).

CEASE said in a statement that the scheduled vote is a critical step “towards guaranteeing our right to breathe clean air at work and lawmakers must recognize the urgency of getting this bill passed. Our lives should not be treated like bargaining chips, and we refuse to accept the status quo where we are expected to choose between our health and our paycheck.”